You could be forgiven for thinking the first two lockdowns have failed. They have not achieved what they were for.
We were told they would protect the HSE from excessive demand, and prevent deaths. Now with recent rises in hospitalisations and deaths, a third lockdown to control the virus is attempted. Last year officials in the World Health Organisation admitted lockdowns do not work. Their devastating consequences outweigh any benefits and they should not be used as a primary control method.
That advice seems to have escaped NPHET and our government.
Last autumn, Dr. David Navarro of the WHO advised that a lockdown should “buy you time to reorganize, regroup, rebalance your resources, protect your health workers who are exhausted, but by and large, we’d rather not do it.
We knew this was coming. We’d been warned for months by politicians and HSE chiefs it would be a particularly bad winter on the hospitals. Yet here we are again, with overcrowded hospitals and ICUs, overstretched and exhausted health workers – the very heroes we’d supported last spring. They’ve been sorely let down. The opportunity we provided the HSE to prepare has been misused. At the time of Dr. Navarro’s warning, HSE chiefs promised 50 extra ICU beds. At present additional demand of over four times that, it makes their planning seem optimistic at best, naive at worst.
You could be forgiven also for thinking there was another plan. Look at what was actually done to prepare. Apart from issuing diktats to exercise, queue, dine, and socialise outdoors during the coldest, wettest part of the year, weakening further our natural immunity during a pandemic, how did the HSE actually prepare itself? The answer is clear. The ICU capacity may not have increased fourfold, but the PCR testing capacity did. A multiplication of tests will find a multiple more cases, and more cases gives greater fuel to the HSE’s warnings to obey the restrictions they knew would follow, to keep hospital demand low.
We were told it was our fault, that we partied to much and too well over the Christmas season. We are to believe we are at fault for another lockdown.
Every winter in Ireland we hear reports about excess demand on beds, people on trollies in corridors unable to get treatment, short-staffing. The reasons have varied each year, from the usual flu season demand, to winter vomiting bugs, to MRSA infection closures. This year is a Covid-exacerbated version of the same tale of HSE winter mismanagement we’ve become accustomed to in this country. We’re used to hearing health ministers promise more funding (that will always ‘take a while’ to show results). We’re used to hearing HSE managers warn of insufficient funding, and resourcing strains, leading to inadequate capacity to meet the seasonal demand. In that regard, this is year has been no different. Except that this year they have lockdown.
Why continue to use a debunked tool for combatting this virus? They have found a convenient way to distract and deflect from problematic accusations of unpreparedness for foreseeable winter demand. Rather than take the flak this year, they blame us. They have adroitly turned the finger away from themselves, and back toward us, and silenced the dissenters. In so doing, they have only proven why lockdowns do not work, and won’t work. We are human. We get weary. After a long difficult year, we craved the simple contact with others, and what festive celebration we could muster, a little warmth and light in the darkness.
They know this, because they have all but admitted that people can not maintain unnatural restrictions very long. Recently the CMO admitted we “all find it challenging to maintain the very low levels of social contact and adherence to social distancing and hygiene measures required to maintain suppression.”
It seems in-spite of lockdown failures that these restrictions are all that NPHET has in its bag of tricks. That should worry every citizen of this country, more so than the virus itself. Our advisors seem to have developed an unhealthy obsessive addiction to inhumane lockdowns, caught in a fatal gambler’s dilemma. Perhaps just one more lockdown will surely be enough to win, to justify all their collateral loses? The cycle of lockdowns is getting harder for them to break. It is no longer just about protecting lives, it is about – now more than ever – protecting the HSE, reputationally. Not only were HSE preparations for a winter surge inadequate, but abandoning lockdowns would be an embarrassing climbdown and an inconceivable admission of failure after a year of destructive commitment to the policy.
Who would have believed a year ago that such things would be imposed in the name of public health? It’s practically heresy to suggest that many measures were, in fact, unhealthy: the elderly packed off to care homes where Covid was rampant; fixating the public on nightly press conferences about death and risk – reducing both to mere numbers to rule our lives; commissioning marketing research to poll our ‘worry index’; co-opting us to force ‘behavioural change’ on others; denying our children access to proper education and social development; thousands of lost jobs and businesses; rising depression, suicides, and domestic violence; a fatal backlog in cancer care; and now, enrolling the entire population into a trial of experimental drugs (approved for use in an emergency only)
This is healthy? This was our best public health ‘advice’?
With emerging problems over vaccine availability and efficacy (especially against new Covid variants) they are no longer looking like the quick salvation we had hoped for at the end of 2020. Our leaders admit there is still no exit plan other than ‘prolonged suppression of the virus’ (in other words, more extended restrictions and more socio-economic devastation).
Perhaps it is time to start asking hard questions, to listen to other voices, to open up to consider alternative strategies (such as the greatly successful winter Covid strategy employed in Andalucia*)
We expect the HSE to be there to protect our health when we have need of them. We do not expect (nor should we expect) to have to protect the HSE’s health, except in one vital way – with our taxes. Our national debt is heading for 240 billion, and rising with each lockdown, offering an eye-watering interest bill for decades to come. Continuing on this path of repeated lockdowns will mean the dwindling tax revenues and crippling national debt may make the HSE a very sick shadow of its former self in decades to come. Will it be worth it, to cure the disease, at the price of killing the patient? Maybe it is time for us to step forward and protect the HSE after all, from itself, by demanding the imposition of restrictions on its behaviour. It would be in its best interest, and ultimately ours too. Of course we could wait for the customary Irish way of handling this – the public inquiry, after the damage has been done. However there are some questions we simply can not afford to wait to ask, and have answered. The cost would be too high.
Brendan Cody is an Irish author of sociological and technological commentaries. He also writes at brendancody.substack.com